What kind of tree is right for your needs?
Just about daily, people come into the nursery looking for a tree that’ll keep its leaves year-round, based on the assumption that deciduous trees are messier and because they look dead in the wintertime. What these folks don’t usually realize is that evergreen trees can actually be much more of a mess than some deciduous trees, and that a bare tree doesn’t have to be ugly. That’s why I’d like to point out a few benefits and drawbacks to both evergreen and deciduous trees that are too often overlooked, so that you’ll be better able to make a decision about what will work best in your own yard.
Deciduous vs Evergreen Trees
Benefits of Evergreen Trees
People who have come to Las Vegas from colder climates tend to think of cedars and pines when they hear the word “evergreen.” In reality, this term applies to any tree that keeps its leaves year-round, so the number of options available is usually a pleasant surprise to most homeowners. Evergreen trees that do well in our climate include the Texas Mountain Laurel, a wide array of acacias and eucalypts like the silver dollar gum and book-leaf mallee.
Obviously, these trees look green and leafy throughout the year, even in the cold of winter, which makes them ideal for a few specific purposes, including:
- Serving as a privacy screen around your yard, patio or the windows of your home
- Acting as a backdrop for your perennial plants and annuals
- Hiding ugly air conditioner units or cement block walls, which are especially prevalent in our valley.
Drawbacks of Evergreen Trees
Evergreens do tend to grow slower than trees that lose their leaves in the winter, but there are some exceptions to this rule, including pine trees, Australian bottle trees and mastics.
Keep in mind that all trees drop leaves at some point as part of their natural cycle. Deciduous trees usually do their business over the course of a few weeks in the fall, while many evergreens will drop a little bit all throughout the year. Factor in flowers and seed pods on top of that and you could very well be out there cleaning up your landscape every couple of weeks. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s ever had an African sumac, Chilean mesquite or California pepper in their yard how they feel about these evergreen trees.
Benefits of Deciduous Trees
Deciduous trees are generally faster-growing than evergreens, so they tend to be better choices if you’re looking for a large tree that can offer a lot of shade quickly.
By providing your home with shade in the summertime and allowing sunlight in during the winter months, a deciduous tree can have a positive impact on both your cooling and heating bills. This also means that they’re often the best option for a seating area or kids’ play area that sees a lot of daytime use in the winter.
A good number of trees with the showiest and longest-lasting bloom cycles are deciduous, so if you’re looking for a lot of color in the summer, don’t rule something that loses its leaves. Just think of the dormant winter months as your tree getting in an extended beauty sleep. Good examples of this include the chaste tree, pink dawn chitalpa and ultra-vibrant crape myrtles.
Don’t forget, deciduous trees are also the ones that give you spectacular fall color. Some crape myrtles develop gorgeous crimson leaves in October, after their summer show is done. Check out the red push pistache or raywood ash for larger trees that’ll make for an especially picturesque autumn.
A bare tree can actually be gorgeous, particularly if you have an eye for color or patterns. Take a look at the beautiful lime green bark of the palo verde trees or at the delicate branching structure of the burgundy lace desert willow if you’d like to find a tree that’s attractive, even when it doesn’t have any leaves on it.
Drawbacks of Deciduous Trees
Because more nutrients are required to put on a whole new flush of leaves, some deciduous trees may need to be fertilized more regularly than their evergreen counterparts. It bears mentioning here that since our Las Vegas soil is not exactly fertile loam, pretty much all trees, evergreens included, should be fertilized at least three times a year.
Some of the homeowners’ associations in Vegas are about as notoriously difficult to work with as the soil here and they may not allow a deciduous tree in the front yard. It’s definitely be a good idea to find out before you start shopping if your HOA has a list of approved or forbidden trees.
Hopefully, these pointers will guide you toward planting a tree that is ideal for your home and long-term needs. In order to get more established and drought-tolerant trees in our valley, it’s important that every homeowner makes the most informed decision they can!
Do you have a favorite desert tree? Let me know what you think is the prettiest evergreen or deciduous tree in Las Vegas in the comments section below!